A report for the Department for Transport, released in November 2018, very clearly stated that reducing speed limits to 20mph does little for road safety or the environment, and in many cases, it can actually lead to greater pollution and a higher number of accidents.

And yet Mark Drakeford, First Minister for Wales says that Wales needs a default limit of 20mph across all residential roads, because trials in Cardiff and Swansea have shown some evidence that supports the theory of improving air quality, reducing accidents and restoring a sense of community.

When we reported on the story later in the month (November 2018), the conclusion was that the blanket 20mph zones were more about the perception of the neighbourhood, rather than any quantifiable benefit, and perhaps that’s what Drakeford is referring to with his “restoring a sense of community” comment.

Slow and safe

The theory behind 20mph zones is logical; slower speeds give more reaction time, mean less injury in the event of a collision (the campaign group ‘20’s Plenty for Us’ say that you’re seven times less likely to die from being hit by a car at 20mph than you are at 30mph) and lessens pollution through engines not being worked as hard.

With that said, the statistics behind 20mph zones are factual; speeds decrease by less than 1mph, distraction rates increase (either through complacency with the lower speed or constantly checking speeds) and pollution will only lessen under very strict circumstance which is virtually never achieved.

Besides the evidence indicating that 20mph zones don’t actually do much, there’s also the cost factor – millions will be spent to implement the low-speed zones, and unless they’re combined with further measures such as traffic calming, they simply won’t work.

Further still, it’s when you add in these extra traffic calming measures that the pollution levels rise due to the stop & start nature of the traffic.

Campaign groups

In amongst the evidence being put forward by the Welsh government is the report by Public Health Wales which claims there would be significant benefit to public health by dropping the limit from 30mph to 20mph; the problem being that the report was released two years before the DfT report stating otherwise.

There’s also the quote from the 20’s Plenty for Us group: “The introduction of 20mph limits in built-up areas has a small but significant impact on vehicle speeds and casualty numbers and when used in combination with other initiatives such as road design, enforcement, new technology and programmes of behaviour change, has the capacity to reduce maximum vehicle speeds towards the 20mph target and thus make major inroads into casualty levels “.

What they’re actually proposing isn’t just a simple lowering of the speed limit – re-education, limit enforcement and road design isn’t the work of a moment, and even with all of that, they’re viewing it as reducing the speed toward the 20mph target, not actually reaching that target.

Safe and sound

Road safety experts at the AA are unequivocally clear: A waste of money, that will rely on taxpayers and motorists to pay for the schemes that could in actual fact be more dangerous than what’s already in place; when the 20mph zones were introduced in England, many of the sites saw an increase in deaths and serious accidents rather than a reduction.

In December 2017, Bath and North East Somerset Council admitted that after introducing 13 new 20mph zones, seven of those 13 saw a significant rise in deaths and injuries, but that they wouldn’t be changing them back due to the cost – £871,000 to introduce, estimated at similar cost to reverse. The question you’d have to ask is how do they justify the decision?

Surely, if they can find £800,000 to ‘save lives’ and lower the speed limit, how can they now say that “actually, what we’ve implemented is causing increased loss of life, but we’re OK with not spending anymore money to rectify that problem”?

Of course, road safety is hugely important, we’d happily support a campaign to help prevent loss of life on the roads, but it has to be more than a whim, not based on an uninformed opinion of politicians that think they’re right because they’re politicians and therefore know what’s best in every situation.

We’ve already seen a huge reduction in rural roads that were once national speed limit because of ‘safety’, and now it seems that yet again, we have to conform with the lowest driving standards of people that would be far happier walking.

Do you think that 20mph zones work? Should they feature more on our road network? Or do you believe that this is just a hairbrained scheme thought up for political gain? Let us know in the comments.

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